Time to celebrate failure

As we all lament the fact the Olympics have finished up for another four years and our athletes return to the fame, anonymity or challenge of another cycle of torturous training it’s timely to reflect on what we can take away from the Olympic experience.

It’s funny how a country of our size holds such high expectations of our athletes and how it could be easily assumed gold is really the only medal that counts. The commentary post games has centred on investment versus return – how could the taxpayer possibly foot the bill for a paltry return of eight gold medals?

That’s a whole other conversation of course, however do we stop to think about the individual achievement of results outside the podium and why these are significant? Even more importantly, what do we learn about the process for achieving these results?

In the Rio games there were 24 personal bests set and almost 80 top 8 finishes by Australian athletes and teams (Source). Granted some of those with a top 8 finish may have been disappointed with this result but let’s not forget – this is still top 8 in the world! As heartbreaking as the Boomers loss in the Bronze medal match was, they sure did a lot right getting to that point.

One thing as professionals we have in common with our Olympic athletes is the ability to set goals and measures as a way of channelling our energy and achieving results important for our organisations and ourselves. Commonly we’re held accountable to a series of numbers or completed tasks as way of measuring our success, or defining our position on the podium.

So, when your numbers aren’t hit or your tasks haven’t been completed how do you celebrate failure? What conversations are you having if you have missed your personal best or a spot on the dais? Are you having that conversation at all?

In sport many athletes and coaches will look at framing ‘lead and ‘lag’ indicators. The lag indicator will be the final goal – the top 8 finish, personal best or place on the dais. Take Anna Meares for example, her lag indicators were to place higher in the keirin than she did in London and win a medal. Tick, tick – celebrate success! (Source)

We have all been in situations where despite our best intents, work ethic, thinking, planning and execution our goal just wasn’t achieved. Similar to the athlete who might be 1% off on the night of the final or just being beaten by a better opponent on the day how do we celebrate these failures?

Lead indicators allow the athlete and coach to celebrate their success or failure based on the process. For athletes this will revolve around their training and getting everything right in the lead up to competition. In the professional world it might be cultivating relationships, communicating effectively, developing buy in from key stakeholders, hitting marketing budgets and the list goes on.

Putting in place the lead indicators allow you and your management team to understand why the goals of the organisation have or haven’t been achieved. The data only tells part of the story and if you can see that the lead indicators have been achieved it is only fair to celebrate the failure and use the experience to learn how to do things more effectively next time.

Let’s not let the numbers fool us – both in our professional environments and when we sit in judgement of our Olympic athletes. Let’s celebrate the successes and failures equally and be proud of the achievements our people make in getting there.

Know a great story of an athlete who finished off the podium recently? We’d love to hear it, please share below.

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Leaders of Evolution are passionate about education. We expertly design and deliver technology enhanced e-learning courses focused on leadership, social and emotional learning, career readiness and sports coaching for students, teachers, athletes, coaches and the wider community.

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Damian Hecker

Keeping an eye on all sports, especially the mighty Hawthorn Football Club, staying fit in the great outdoors and sneaking in some travel wherever possible occupy Damian's time away from designing e-learning curriculum for both Leaders of Evolution and our valued E-learning Hub Partners.


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